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County's household hazardous waste program served 2,251 families in '06

WILLMAR -- During the last 15 years, 488 tons of hazardous waste that can be found in most people's homes was recycled or packed up and shipped out at the Kandiyohi County Household Hazardous Waste facility in Willmar.

WILLMAR -- During the last 15 years, 488 tons of hazardous waste that can be found in most people's homes was recycled or packed up and shipped out at the Kandiyohi County Household Hazardous Waste facility in Willmar.

In 2006, the center processed 46.9 tons of hazardous waste, said Carol Schmiesing, the household hazardous waste director.

Typical household hazardous waste includes latex and oil paints, pesticides, weed killers, acids, solvents, fuels, pharmaceuticals, aerosol cans and fluorescent bulbs that contain mercury.

"There's some nasty stuff out there," Schmiesing said.

Collecting and properly disposing of the materials helps reduce environmental contamination at landfills. It also reduces chances that people, especially children, will come into contact with potentially dangerous chemicals that may be poorly stored in basements and garages.

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Most of the items brought to the household hazardous waste facility come from ordinary residents.

In 2006, Schmiesing said 2,251 households brought waste to the facility.

That's a huge growth compared to 1991, when she began to keep records. Back then, there were 138 participants and 4.2 tons of household hazardous waste was processed.

As education about proper disposal of hazardous waste increases, more people are participating and tonnage has risen.

"There's greater awareness, but there's still plenty of educating to do," she said.

In 2002, the center processed nearly 61 tons of household hazardous waste. "That was our biggest year," Schmiesing said.

Paint makes up the largest portion of the waste that's brought to the center.

Latex paint that hasn't been frozen and is still useable is put on the "paint exchange" shelf at the center for others to take and use. The rest is sent to a metro facility that recycles latex paint for a cement adhesive.

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"As much as possible is recycled," Schmiesing said.

A new machine that was installed in the last year has helped the center recycle aerosol cans more efficiently. The $25,000 machine punctures cans and safely removes any liquid or gas. The cans are then recycled for their metal at the recycling center just across the parking lot.

In the past, aerosol cans were boxed up and sent elsewhere for disposal.

Schmiesing said all aerosol cans, including hair spray, oven cleaner or air fresheners, should be brought to the household hazardous waste facility and not taken to the landfill.

The number of fluorescent bulbs being brought to the facility has been increasing, said Schmiesing. The long fluorescent tubes, as well as the new compact fluorescent bulbs that are growing in popularity because of their energy savings, are all banned from the landfill.

In 2006 there were more than 20,000 fluorescent bulbs brought to the center. In previous years the number of bulbs was in the neighborhood of 12,000 to 14,000.

The center charges a fee of 50 cents for each fluorescent light bulb, but there is no fee for other household hazardous waste brought to the facility.

A special "clean shop" program for business waste does include a fee. Schmiesing said there were 38 businesses that participated in the program in 2006, including a printing company and a wood products business. Only businesses that generate less than 220 pounds of waste a month are qualified to participate. Without the local program, she said businesses would have to contract with a metro company to pick up and dispose of waste.

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Since 2004, agricultural chemicals and containers have been accepted at the facility, Schmiesing said.

During a report on the facility's activity presented last week to the Kandiyohi County Board of Commissioners, Schmiesing presented a five-year contract between the county and the state. The county receives about $40,000 a year from the state for providing the household hazardous waste services.

Kandiyohi County serves as the regional facility for Renville, Swift, Lac qui Parle, Big Stone, Meeker and Chippewa counties who pay a stipend to Kandiyohi County for administrative fees. The counties also pay for disposal of items generated from their residents.

Carolyn Lange is a features writer at the West Central Tribune. She can be reached at clange@wctrib.com or 320-894-9750
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